Bhagwat’s New Formulations on Caste: ‘Old Wine in New bottle’

mohan bhagawat

“I (god) am in all beings. Whatever be the name or color, all have the same ability, same respect. All are my own. No one is superior or inferior…based on scriptures, what the Pandits say is a lie. By getting entangled in this imagination of superior and inferior castes, we have lost our way. This delusion has to be done away with.“ These are the words of Dr. Mohan Bhagwat, the Sarsanghchalak of RSS, and the parent organization of BJP and plethora of organizations working for the goal of Hindu Nation. He was talking on the occasion of Saint Raidas celebrations.

Swami Prasad Maurya, the leader of downtrodden castes latched on to it and re-emphasized his call for revision of Ramcharitmanas, of Tulsidas, where there are humiliating passages for dalits and women both. On the other side the conservative Shankaryaryas and others opposed this saying that caste is created by God Himself and Bhagwat should not blame Brahmins for this. Clarifying to save his face Bhagwat went on to say that by Pandits he means scholars and not Brahmins.

Surely this is the latest articulation from the Hindu nationalist stable to woo over the dalits in particular. RSS has been in constant dilemma, on one side to maintain the pre modern status quo of caste and gender on the other to win over these sections for its agenda. The articulation of RSS regarding caste has gone through various stages. One of the factors which prompted the formation of RSS was the struggle of downtrodden to break the shackles of Landlord-Brahmins. The ‘Non Brahmin Movement’, aimed against the Landlord-Brahmin combine was the major factor in some of the elite coming together to form this organization.

RSS’s initial understanding was presented by its second Sarsanghachalak, Madhav Sadshiv Golwalkar. He upheld this varna-caste system by eulogizing Manu Smriti and presenting the past as Golden period as the laws of this book “We or Our Nationhood Defined’, were ruling the roost. As per him it is this Holy Scripture there is caste system and this system is based in scientific principles. Organiser, the unofficial RSS mouthpiece presented it thus, ‘If a developed society realizes that the existing differences are due to the scientific social structure and that they indicate the different limbs of body social, the diversity (i.e. caste system, added) would not be construed as a blemish.’ (Organiser, 1 December 1952, p. 7)

Later another major ideologue of RSS, Deendayal Upadhyay, who was also the President of BJP, put forward the ideology of ‘Integral Humanism’. Many of those from the Sangh stable stated this is what guides their politics. As per Integral Humanism ‘In our concept of four castes (varnas), they are thought of as different limbs of virat purush (the primeval man)… These limbs are not only complementary to one another but even further there is individuality, unity. There is a complete identity of interests, identity, belonging… If this idea is not kept alive, the caste; instead of being complimentary can produce conflict. But then that is a distortion.’ (D. Upadhyaya, Integral Humanism, New Delhi, Bharatiya Jansangh, 1965, p. 43)

These were articulations which consolidated the base of their politics among sections of Hindus. In the next phase, when this consolidation was established RSS went into propagating that all castes are equal. In this direction they published three major books.

These books written by RSS ideologues argue that Islamic atrocities during the medieval period resulted in the emergence of untouchables and low castes. The books are “Hindu Charmakar Jati”, “Hindu Khatik Jati” and “Hindu Valmiki Jati”.

The Sangh leaders claimed that these castes had come into existence due to atrocities by foreign invaders and did not exist in Hindu religion earlier. According to Bhaiyyaji Joshi, another RSS leader, ‘shudras’ were never untouchables in Hindu scriptures. ‘Islamic atrocities’ during the medieval age resulted in the emergence of untouchables, Dalits. Joshi further elaborated, “To violate Hindu swabhiman (dignity) of Chanwarvanshiya Kshatriyas, foreign invaders from Arab, Muslim rulers and beef-eaters, forced them to do abominable works like killing cows, skinning them and throwing their carcasses in deserted places. Foreign invaders thus created a caste of charma-karma (dealing with skin) by giving such works as punishment to proud Hindu prisoners.” And now comes the latest phase where the caste system is blamed on Pandits.

As such the foundations of the caste system are very old and untouchability came as an accompaniment of the caste system. The Aryans considered themselves superior, they called non-Aryans krshna varnya (dark skinned), anasa (those with no nose), and… they were considered non-human or amanushya. (Rig Veda: X.22.9) There are quotes in the Rig Veda and Manusmriti to show that low castes were prohibited from coming close to the high castes and they were to live outside the village. While this does not imply that a full-fledged caste system had come into being in Rig Vedic times, the four-fold division of society into varnas did exist, which became a fairly rigid caste system by the time of the Manusmriti.

Untouchability became the accompaniment of the caste system sometime around the first century AD. The Manusmriti, written in the second–third centuries AD, codifies the existing practices which show with utmost clarity the type of despicable social practices that the oppressor castes were imposing upon the oppressed castes.

Whatever the truth be, RSS after consolidating its base now wants to win over large sections of dalit-OBC to its agenda. As such earlier also it had set up Samajik Samrasta manch (Social harmony Forum) to work among Dalit-OBC and Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram to co-opt the Adivasis. Their well spread out network has made inroads into these sections of society from decades and it has yielded rich electoral dividends, apart from trying to make these sections as a part of Hindutva fold. Their work in these areas revolves around promoting Brahminical religiosity and Seva (Service, Charity)

Now the electoral politics is becoming more challenging as the deprivations of the downtrodden sections are becoming clear about the RSS agenda, and so the new formulation of origin of caste. They can do now it as their core constituency is consolidated and such utterances are not going to shake that while they adopt newer language to woo over the dalits-OBC in particular.

Originally published in News Click

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Dr Ram Puniyani

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: [email protected]

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